imago corvi

adventures in enamelling, stories, music and travel

Crows

When I was a child I was not happy to have Crowe as my surname. It gave the other kids fodder for teasing. “Go fly south, crow-bird” they’d holler. It didn’t matter how often I explained that crows didn’t fly south. The information that they were one of the most intelligent birds did not help either. But like most children I survived the childhood trauma and grew into loving my association with crows

Being naturally curious I continued to investigate crows and my association with them. I learned that they are from the corvid genus which includes ravens magpies and jays. I learned that the etymology of my name was not related to crows. It is an anglicization of Mac Conchradha which has as its root ‘con’ meaning ‘hound’ and chrada meaning thorn bush or hawthorn.

But I also discovered the place of the crow in folklore and began a journey into myth and fairy tale that inspires me to this day.

In Celtic culture the crow/raven is often referred to as the ‘oldest’ of the animals, which is folklore code for participation in some way in the creation myth. Unfortunately in Celtic culture the Pagan origin myth has been lost but in other cultures the crow often fills this role.

In Haida culture, for example, the raven finds humans in a clamshell. Raven can be a magician, a transformer, a potent creative force, sexual deviant or ravenous debaucher but always a cultural hero. While frequently described as a “trickster”, Haidas also believe Raven or Yelth or Hoya to be a complex reflection of one’s own self

In many cultures the crow was originally white and turns to black becasue of some mischeif that he got into. There is a tantalising hint that this might have been the case in some lost celtic story in the name Branwen (which means “white crow”)
Greeks believed that Apollo turned the raven black when the bird informed him of the unfaithfulness of his lover, Coronis.
The most recent scientific investigation of crows who not only that they are the most intellegent of birds – but also more intellegent than many other mammals. Have a look at this:
http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/Shows/The_Nature_of_Things/1242300217/ID=1385855962
I am now pretty happy with my association with crows – and look to them often for inspiration. For more info on crow mythology – check out this link: http://www.deardeath.com/raven.htm

I also highly recommend the book “The Folklore of Birds” by A. E. Armstrong

But this is my favorite crow story – collected by Sean O Sullivan (retold by me)

OLD MAY NIGHT

Once upon a time there was a very cold night and the old crow of Achill was looking for somewhere warm to spend it, He eventually found a baby eagle alone in its nest just as it was beginning to get dark. So he killed the baby and threw it out of the nest and hunkered down, hoping that the mother would not notice the change and would keep him warm all night. Things fell out as he had hoped. By the time the mother eagle came back it was too dark to see and she kept the old crow warm all night. However, as day began to dawn he was worried about what she would do when she discovered his ruse. Kill him as likely as not! So he tried to think of a way around it. She had been hopping up and down all night lamenting the cold. “I don’t remember a colder night than this” she said

“There was a colder night though” said the old crow “Old May night, many years ago was colder than this.”

“How would you know – and you just out of the egg last week?” she asked.

“Well if you don’t believe me – go and ask the Blackbird at the forge – she’ll tell you”

So the mother eagle flew over to the Blackbird at the forge.

“Do you remember a colder night than this?” she asked

“Well” said the Blackbird” I have been standing on this iron bar since I came out of the egg, and every day I wipe my beak on it once. Yesterday the bar broke off. That’s how long I’ve been standing here and I don’t remember a colder night than this – but you should go and ask the bull in the field. He’s older than me and he might know.”

So the eagle flew over to the bull in the field.

“Do you remember a colder night than this?” she asked?

“Well” said the Bull in the field “I have been standing in this field since the day I was born and every year I drop my horns. I have been building a wall around the field with my horns – that’s how long I’ve been standing here, and I don’t remember a colder night than this. You should go and talk to the blind salmon of Assaroe – because he’s the oldest animal I know.”

So the eagle flew over to Assaroe and found the blind salmon

“Do you remember a colder night than this?” she asked?

“Who told you there was a colder night than this”

asked the salmon.

“Why – it was my baby eagle in the nest.”

“That was never your child” said the blind salmon “that was the old crow of Achill. There WAS a colder night than this. I remember it well- it was old May night many years ago.

It was so cold that the stream froze and caught me in a leap so that I was frozen tight half in and half out of the river. And the old crow of Achill came along and pecked my eyes out. That’s why I’m blind.”

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This entry was posted on June 2, 2012 by in mythology and tagged , , .

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